How you can support your child’s mental health through their education
- Credit: Medlock Photography
The Covid-19 pandemic has shifted the subject of mental wellbeing from one of stigma towards one of normalisation. At last, mental wellbeing is now being openly discussed in a more positive light, and there is a link between healthy well-being and academic success. If left ignored at a young age, however, its impact may hinder a child’s potential for future fulfilment, success in the workplace and reaching personal goals.
Head of Wakefield Girls’ High School Heidi-Jayne Boyes and the school’s mental health lead Shirley Oldale, speak to us about the importance of acknowledging young people’s mental wellbeing and the support parents and schools can provide.
Q: How can you prepare girls to regulate and care for their own mental wellbeing in the future?
The best thing a parent can do for their child is to listen without judgement to validate their experiences and feelings and then offer acceptance and support. Children must be prepared for both the challenges and highlights of future life, not just within the workplace.
To be fulfilled is to be able to value both yourself and the smaller enjoyments of life, without succumbing to external pressures or expectations.
We teach our girls how empowerment is not defined solely by success and achievement. Empowerment is the ability to care for your mental wellbeing by making informed choices, knowing your boundaries and that it really is okay, not to be okay.
Wakefield Girls’ integrates exercise and sports, dance, music and poetry into the curriculum to give students the opportunity to connect with their own coping mechanisms, whether that be through physically releasing tension or expressing themselves through music or writing. This helps girls who struggle with verbal self-expression to cultivate a relationship with their own emotions, so they know how to cope in future life.
Q: What kind of challenges and obstacles do you think girls face growing up in modern society?
Change is an important factor to consider if your daughter is struggling to cope. The transition from Year 6 to Year 7 in particular, can be a cause for stress and difficulty. Changes to personal circumstances and family issues can also have an impact.
Anxiety is the most prevalent issue that can affect student’s wellbeing throughout their education. It’s important for parents to be aware of this and understand that a certain amount of anxiety is normal. A good school will talk about this and offer extra intervention and support if needed. At Wakefield Girls’ we have 24 qualified mental health first-aiders across the junior and senior school, including a school councillor, nurse and all members of the pastoral team.
We are aware that the pandemic lockdowns have created unprecedented instability upon some children's experience of schooling across the country, as well as their educational environment. Whilst this has risked impacting their ability to learn, Wakefield Girls’ have been proactive in offering support to ensure this is minimal.
Q: What can be done to empower students as they progress through school?
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Emotional regulation is key – we facilitate it throughout our school, creating a safe environment for students to freely express their emotions. Establishing a supportive and honest environment at home will also enhance a child’s potential and performance long-term. When an individual has a healthy mental wellbeing, their creativity and level of potential is astounding.
We encourage a whole school approach to mental wellbeing which involves a three-way relationship of communication between the student, school and parents to support this journey. One way we do this is through our programme ‘Wakefield Girls’ Matters’, which includes regular live and on-demand webinars for parents, where we are joined by other experts who also share their experience and advice on current pressing issues.
We welcome any parent to join us - the talks are online and easy to connect to from home. The next talk, on September 16, is full of practical tips and advice for parents on how they can help their daughters as they grow from being a child to a teenager.
All students should be given the opportunities to thrive and to reach their potential. We have a proactive curriculum planned to help students make connections with their own mental health and the wellbeing of others. The pastoral team is creating an established structure that allows space in the timetable for mental wellbeing in form time and PSHEE, offering opportunities to develop relationships while encouraging acceptance, awareness and empathy within the school community.
Our community ethos surrounding mental wellbeing ultimately prepares children to self-reflect and consider others, their wider community and society as they progress into adulthood.
Visit wakefieldgirls.org.uk for Wakefield Girls’ High School and to register for Wakefield Girls' Matters, or wgsf.org.uk/wghs-junior for Wakefield Girls’ Junior section, for more information on how we support our students.
The school can be reached on 01924 372490.